By Danny Kohan
I was nine years old and my travel basketball team had just defeated our arch rival Thousand Oaks to win our first league championship.
To the victors go the spoils, and as a child in 1993, that meant three things: Pizza, Soda, and NBA Jam. The team banquet was to be held at Lamppost Pizza (local eatery of choice for all youth league champs), and the Coca-Cola and pepperoni pizza would surely be flowing. However, gaining access to the NBA Jam arcade would prove to be no easy task.
As my dad parked the minivan, I jumped out as fast as I could and strolled into the restaurant with all the swagger of Lavar Ball entering the “First Take” studio.
Unfortunately, as soon as I opened the door, it hit me….the line for NBA Jam was no joke. It snaked around dining tables, stretched through pinball machines…there was no end in sight.
Now, I realize that kids these days must have zero concept of what I’m talking about. Arcade? The line to play video games? Pinball machine? Let me break it down. In 1993, the NBA Jam arcade was the holy grail, on equal footing to Viper at Magic Mountain or any other amusement park attraction I wasn’t yet tall enough to ride. There was no Angry Birds to play on your mom’s phone, no Ipad to watch YouTube on. This was it. This was as good as it got.
Thus, I resigned myself to stand and to wait. Staring at the nearby tables filled with laughing kids, cheese dripping down their chins, pepperoni pizza grease glimmering in my eye, I admit I considered bailing. Especially when I turned to notice a machine full of jawbreakers taunting me, tantalizing my senses. Still, I was determined to play at least one game of “Jam.”
Finally, the nightmare ended, the long wait was over. Here I stood, one red headed kid away from the single greatest game ever invented. “Next!” the rather large teenager yelled as he quickly disposed of “Red” in front me. This behemoth of a teenager had just dominated the entire line, one by one, no easy task when you consider that the computer is actually built to keep the games close.
As I approached, he looked down on me in pity. Palms sweating, I chose my team, a Lakers roster of James Worthy and Vlade Divac. My opponent stuck with what was working, a Seattle Supersonics team featuring steal-machine Gary Payton and an absolutely terrifying Shawn Kemp (Both with a more than well deserved “Swag” rating of 9).
What transpired next? Well, I’d rather not talk about it. Let’s just say I can still hear the screams. “Slam-a-jamma!” “From Downtown!” “He’s on fire!” “Boom-Shaka-Laka!” It all happened so fast. I never knew what hit me.
Even today, as a full grown adult male, the sounds still haunt my soul.
Occasionally I’ll find myself laying in bed, having a nice pleasant dream, and out of nowhere video game Shawn Kemp will appear, flaming red ball in hand, to dunk all over everything I hold dear. I’ll ask him, why? Why can’t you let me be? Why can’t I just sleep in peace? What is your purpose here? I plead with him to leave, to allow me to enjoy my simple dreams.
Sadly, he only ever responds with one word and one word only: “Boom-Shaka-Laka!”
Legendary self-help writer, Napoleon Hill, once stated that “Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.” For me, the benefit of that fateful arcade contest takes the form of a constant reminder. That reminder: When it comes to the NBA, you need two all-star level players or you don’t stand a chance.
Looking back now, of course I lost. I chose my team with my heart over my head. Trust me, I love my Lakers, but let’s face it, a decrepit James Worthy, barely able to make it up the court, and a young, newly introduced to the English language, Vlade Divac didn’t stand a chance against “The Reign Man” and “The Glove.”
As the present day 2016–2017 Lakers finished near the bottom of the league yet again, I found myself asking, who would their current NBA Jam duo be? If the game was as big now as it was then, after waiting in line for hours, who would I have had the option to choose? D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle? Jordan Clarkson and Brandon Ingram? Good God, not (gulp)…Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov? To quote The Heart of Darkness, “The horror, oh the horror.”
For the record, I think the guys at Hogs with a Blog have it right with a Lakers roster of Russell/Randle and Ingram as an alternate. They actually made an updated NBA Jam game with all the current players and ratings. No really, they did, look at the video at the bottom of the page if you don’t believe me.
Meanwhile, The Cleveland Cavaliers current front office has taken it to another level altogether, inserting an NBA Jam arcade in their team office, fully reprogrammed to include general manager David Griffin and other staff members as selectable players.
— Cavaliers 101 (@Cavaliers_101) March 9, 2017
To be a contending team in the NBA, there is no getting around the fact that you have to have two guys playing at an all-star level. The 2016–2017 Lakers are far from having one. Just look at the eight teams still left in the 2017 playoffs:
Warriors Vs. Jazz= Durant/Curry Vs. Hayward/Gobert
Spurs Vs. Rockets= Kawhi/Aldridge Vs. Harden/Gordon
Boston Vs. Wizards= Isiah/Horford Vs. Wall/Beale
Cavs Vs. Raprots= LeBron/Kyrie Vs. DeRozan/Lowry
Of the above, only Gobert and Gordon have failed to make an all-star team and both were borderline candidates this year.
Clearly, if Laker fans hope to contend in the coming years, they need to either develop or acquire two all-star players.
The roster as currently constructed has three players who arguably have the potential to one day reach that level: D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, and Brandon Ingram. However, based on their (admittedly very early in their career) performance, there is not much consensus around the league that any of them will reach that level, much less two of them.
For Lakers management to truly know, they will most likely need another two to three years of evaluating their growth. Worse, they will have to commit tens of millions of dollars while they’re still figuring out if their potential will bear fruit (Randle is already eligible for an extension this year) or risk losing them in free agency. Having endured four straight tanking seasons, a Laker fan base not exactly known for their patience has just about had it.
New president of basketball operations, Magic Johnson, and general manager Rob Pelinka now face tremendous pressure to acquire those all-star level players sooner rather than later. Both have a firm understanding of what a championship roster looks like, as all Laker title teams of the past have had that elite duo. From West/Wilt to Magic/Kareem to Shaq/Kobe to Kobe/Gasol (all would also be incredibly frightening NBA Jam video game duos).
Those are some of the greatest one-two punches in the history of the NBA, duos whose shadows still loom large over the franchise. If, as Magic has promised coach Luke Walton, the Lakers are lucky enough to land in the top three of this year’s NBA draft lottery (to be held May 16th) and can keep their pick, they will have a fourth potential all-star on their hands.
Based on early projections and the underwhelming performance of the Lakers previous three lottery picks, that 2017 draft right would be the most valuable asset on their roster.
New management has come in looking to make a splash and Magic, perhaps more than anyone on the planet, is tired of watching his Lakers devolve into a laughingstock around the league.
If they keep the pick and stay pat with the youngsters, the team would still not be good enough to make the playoffs next year and (since their 2018 pick would automatically go to the 76’ers) they would not benefit from another year of misery.
With this in mind and the frustration of Laker fans weighing heavily on Magic’s shoulders, look for the Lakers to try and move their young assets this Summer to land two established all-stars.
During this year’s trade deadline, the Sacramento Kings were reportedly willing to trade DeMarcus Cousins to the Lakers if they received Brandon Ingram in return. However, previous Lakers management was reportedly unwilling to pull the trigger.
Lakers Rumors: Kings wanted D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram for DeMarcus Cousins https://t.co/DNXpns9SCi
— Silver Screen & Roll (@LakersSBN) March 22, 2017
Would the Pelicans also be interested in an Ingram deal, after Cousins proved to be an uncomfortable fit next to Anthony Davis? If so, a trade involving Ingram and Russell may be enough to land Cousins.
Similarly, Paul George, another all-star level player, reportedly has eyes on playing in purple and gold. If the team is lucky enough to keep their top 3 pick (they have slightly less than a 50% chance of this), look for them to offer a combination of Randle and the pick for George.
Acquiring two all-star level players would no doubt excite the fan base and quickly transform the Lakers into playoff contenders.
With Paul George just recently turning 27 years old on May 2nd and DeMarcus Cousins still only 26, both still have at least four to five prime years left. While the duo of Paul George and DeMarcus Cousins may not be Shaq and Kobe (who is really?), they would be worthy of an NBA Jam game selection and would be a move in the right direction for a fan base desperate to see a competitive Lakers team once again.
Author: Danny Kohan